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August 11, 2008

The Mystery of the Disappearing Client


The strangest thing about the world of business – and as my regular readers know, I think there are many strange things about the world of business – is the disappearing client. You wouldn’t think the business community would be so hospitable to complete flakes who confront matters for which they are responsible by pulling a Howard Hughes on you. You’d think people like that would get flushed pretty quickly out of such a serious, results-oriented world.


You’d think that. But you’d be wrong. Take Mike. Please.


I hadn’t seen Mike in years when he suddenly showed up at my office. He had moved on from his longtime employer, which was also a longtime client of mine before we parted ways four years earlier.


And while I had met Mike on occasion during that engagement, his role in engineering didn’t make him a frequent contact for me, so we knew each other in passing but not intimately. (Not that kind of intimately, lamebrain!)


So when Mike told me he wanted to talk to me about an opportunity, I had the same first thought you would have had: “Amway!” When someone you used to know, but not that well, suddenly wants to get together with you to discuss an “opportunity,” you can be reasonably sure most of the time that you’ll soon be discussing how you can make all your dreams come true by badgering your friends and neighbors to buy Eau de Toilette from you.


But not this time, although I wasn’t far off. Mike had joined some sort of consulting firm that was going to show businesses how to stop screwing up quite so often. Now here was something entirely new and unique to the business world! No one had ever tried to do this before.


But no no no, he assured me, this was truly different, and he could use my company’s help.


Fine. The concept may have underwhelmed me, but I’m well past the point where I need to be inspired by my clients’ missions. I just need to be paid. So having agreed to parameters and a budget for the engagement, we went to work on it and finished it in about a week.


That’s when things got interesting.


We sent the work to Mike for his feedback and asked him to let us know his initial thoughts by the end of the week. The entire week came and went – no feedback from Mike. I wasn’t too taken aback at first, as Mike is one of those people who always thinks he’s swamped, “behind the 8-ball” or whatever other cliché people use for disorganized and unresponsive.


I followed up the next Wednesday. Nothing.


Three more weeks of this, and I started wondering if he’d been hit by a bus or something. The voice mails I left started getting more interesting: “Miiiiiike! This is D.F.! I’m watching from a van outside your house, Mike! You can’t hide from me!”


Turned out I wasn’t the only one he was hiding from, as I discovered when I did the only rational thing a person would do under the circumstances – I sent an invoice to his boss for my services. Now that got attention. Not good attention, but attention.


“What is this for?” said the woman on the phone.


I explained that Mike had come to my office, discussed certain things with me and asked me to perform certain tasks for a certain amount of money. The amount on the invoice. I also mentioned that Mike had not been responding to voice mails or e-mails ever since.


“We haven’t been able to get ahold of him either,” the woman said. “And he was not authorized to hire your company to do this work.”


“Well,” I insisted. “He did hire us to do the work, and he did it on your behalf, and whether you authorized it or not, you are responsible for what he did, and you need to pay this bill.”


I always say that. It never works. I never got any money.


As for Mike, the last I knew, he was drifting around town calling himself a “business coach” or some such thing – presumably advising his clients to hire companies for services and then disappear before they can try to collect their fees.


How can Mike even have a job, let alone a consulting practice, after the hijinks he’s pulled? All I can tell you is that the business world is more forgiving, and has a shorter memory, than you might think. So if you’re looking for a business consultant, well, of all the business consultants I’ve come across in my time, he’s one of them.


If he can teach you to do the stuff he’s done, and somehow manage to stay in business, he might actually be worth the money.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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